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Opinion

Proposed cuts to the culture sector in Wales will have a devastating impact

13 Feb 2024 7 minute read
The National Library of Wales

Heledd Fychan, Plaid Cymru MS for South Wales Central

Our national collections are at risk, and our cultural, arts and heritage sectors are in crisis.

For years, consecutive Welsh Government commissioned reports have confirmed the warnings coming from our national cultural and heritage institutions and organisations that they are underfunded, both in terms of capital and revenue funding. And for years, consecutive Labour ministers and deputy ministers have failed to heed those warnings.

Amgueddfa Cymru, the National Library of Wales, Arts Council Wales and the Welsh Books Council are facing a 10.5% reduction in their revenue budgets, whilst Cadw and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales are facing a 22% cut.

In terms of the Welsh Government’s overall budget, the savings are minimal yet the impact will be devastating.

In December, Jane Richardson – the Chief Executive of Amgueddfa Cymru – whilst giving evidence to the Senedd’s Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport, and International Relations Committee could not have stated more clearly the current risk to the collections: “When we are expecting a storm or heavy rain, we have to put staff on standby, literally, so they can come into the building in the middle of the night to take paintings off the walls”.

Urgent works

She also stated that £90m is needed across the whole estate, which consists of the seven national museums and the collections centre in Nantgarw. This includes £25m for critical urgent works at National Museum Cardiff, and of course, the upkeep of Big Pit. Although it is no longer a working coal mine, the museum still operates under the stringent regulations of Mines and Quarries Health and Safety legislation and safety remains paramount in order to be able to run the underground tours.

These warnings should not be taken lightly, or dismissed as the sector being alarmist.

In 2016, the Natural History Museum in Delhi was destroyed in a fire, years after concerns were raised about maintenance.

And in 2018, the National Museum of Brazil was destroyed in a fire and 92.5% of the nation’s national collections – built up over 200 years – vanished overnight due to a faulty air conditioning unit. Inspectors had warned of a fire risk as early as 2004, and the government had pressed on with funding cuts despite these warnings.

Following the fire, Luiz Duaret – one of the museum’s vice directors – was clear that political failings were at fault for letting the museum fall into disrepair and was quoted as saying:  “For many years we fought with different governments to get adequate resources to preserve what is now completely destroyed”. He added “My feeling is of total dismay and immense anger.”

Close call

Wales has already suffered a close call, following the fire on the roof of the National Library of Wales in 2013 which damaged a small part of the library’s collection. Burying our heads in the sand, and hoping it won’t happen again here in Wales isn’t a strategic approach to our national memory.

The other risk to our collections, heritage and culture relates to the loss of staff, which will be inevitable given the scale of the cuts being proposed. Voluntary redundancy schemes are already open, with compulsory schemes likely to follow. We will lose experts and practitioners that not only care for our cultural assets, but also help engage people of every age and background with them. There won’t be time for succession planning, or training others in those skills.

The ability to lever funds from trusts, foundations and donors will also be curtailed. Because Wales has consistently led the way in making culture and our collections accessible, many of our organisations have become increasingly successful at securing additional funding which has made up for the gaps in revenue funding. This is also being put at risk by the cuts.

Free entry

When it comes to our national museums, the Welsh Government seems to think that scrapping free entry and allowing Amgueddfa Cymru to charge for entry is a potential solution. It is not.

Since 2001, free entry has been a hugely successful policy, resulting in more than a doubling of visitors to our museums annually. Notably, there has been a significant increase amongst families from a lower socio-economic background.

Speaking ten years after the policy was introduced, Huw Lewis, then Minister for Housing, Regeneration and Heritage said: “This is a ‘made in Wales’ success story for Devolution, the Welsh Government and Amgueddfa Cymru. The free entry policy strikes the right balance between meeting the needs of existing loyal visitors and attracting newer, harder to reach audiences as well as addressing barriers to access such as poverty and social exclusion.

“It has been key to both increasing volume and also appealing to a broad range of people from our communities. Before free entry, less than 250,000 visitors were from less affluent groups but over the 10 years of the policy, the figure has doubled.”

Thirteen years later, and the Welsh Government seems to be considering a U-turn. Neither Vaughan Gething nor Jeremy Miles in their manifestoes for being the next First Minister of Wales commit to free entry with the former hinting that it may only be applicable to under 18s from now one with this policy pledge: Investigate the potential for introducing a cultural passport for under 18-year olds, to ensure that young people from every background can access arts, culture, and creative opportunities.”

Pressures

Of course those working in these sectors understand the challenges to the overall budget, and the pressures on social care, health, education and so on. But they also understand how culture and the arts interacts with each of these portfolios, as well as the economic value culture brings to Wales which can then be invested in public services.

To cut them is not only shortsighted, but also harms the Welsh economy. This was clearly illustrated in Cadw’s Heritage Counts report, published in January 2020 just prior to the pandemic which stated: “The latest figures show that of 75m day visitors to Wales, 8.1m overnight visitors and 784k overseas visitors, 26.54m were motivated to visit by the historic environment. In 2018, those visitors spent £1.72bn. If you added culture and the arts to the figures, then the impact is even greater.

On one hand, the Welsh Government seems to acknowledge this, by the very fact that “A Wales of Vibrant Culture and Thriving Welsh Language” is one of the seven Well-being goals in the Well-being of Future Generations Act.

A number of National Well-being Indicators also relate to culture and heritage such as “Participation in arts, culture and heritage; Professional standards in heritage collections and Looking after our cultural heritage”.

However, actions speak louder than words, and I fear that this goal is one that is not given the focus it needs from government. This must change, and I hope the next First Minister will elevate culture to a Ministerial post, and work with these sectors to realise their even greater potential. Our culture and heritage must be safeguarded, for both current and future generations.

Heledd Fychan is laid Cymru spokesperson for Culture and Member of the Senedd for South Wales Central. Prior to being elected in 2021, Heledd worked for Amgueddfa Cymru and was Chair of the Museum Association’s Ethics Committee.


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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
4 months ago

Welsh Gov. are nothing but a two faced bunch of incompetent cheating Philistines…

Mandi A
Mandi A
4 months ago

I refer readers to the previous campaign to protect NLW from the maws of the previous Deputy Culture Minister just three years ago. 14,000 people from across the world signed a WelshGov petition to prevent staff cuts, evidence was taken in committee, the UK’s librarians’ professional association CILIP became involved. The NLW was proposing to empty its reserves of all its remaining monies. Aberystwyth as a town was in fear for its economy and standing. Relevant to the question of Welsh Peers, campaigners discovered that Welsh Peers were unable to raise questions in the House of Lords on devolved matters.… Read more »

hdavies15
hdavies15
4 months ago

Time the Bay regime dropped all its virtue signaling spends with parastitic groups and its affection for pet projects. Return itself to the key immediate priorities so that people have better access to health services, their kids have a better education, more reliable transport to work, safer homes …… We have relatively few national institutions so they too must be defended. If there’s anything left after those core issues are sorted then maybe the Bubble might be in a position to indulge its fancies.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
4 months ago
Reply to  hdavies15

You can say that again, like rust or a leaky tap they never sleep, while we argue about language, second homes and song contests they, down in Desolation Bay and their cronies, are doing a similar number on the commonwealth of the people as the gang next door…

Naive in the extreme to think we are in safer hands…

Llyn
Llyn
4 months ago
Reply to  hdavies15

Out of interest what “parasitic groups” and “pet projects” would you not fund in the financial year 24-25 in order to put more money into health services and education?

hdavies15
hdavies15
4 months ago
Reply to  Llyn

Anything that doesn’t have an immediate impact on the health and economic welfare of our people. My personal list is headlined by Stonewall but there a few more odd “advisory” bodies sucking at the sow down the Bay.

Last edited 4 months ago by hdavies15
Llyn
Llyn
4 months ago
Reply to  hdavies15

So last year I believe Stonewall was given a £100,000 grant by Welsh Government. If the Welsh Government were to repeat that grant in the next financial year that leaves just £89,000,900 to go for the urgent work on to the museum’s estate.

Elle Geebity
Elle Geebity
4 months ago
Reply to  hdavies15

Slash something which helps the LGBT community of a ome 210,000 people. In Cymru. There’s a surprise.

Gary H
Gary H
4 months ago

This will be a cultural disaster brought on by cutting what is pocket money for govt ministers to spend on pet projects. Perhaps £5-8m saving against the very worthy but costly £50mfor 20mph road signs, and with a much bigger impact on the sustainability of what attracts tourists leading to income losses far in excess of NHS costs stemming from accidents caused by 30mph speeding. It must be stopped.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
4 months ago
Reply to  Gary H

Welsh Gov are copying the Tory’s playbook, if it is of any value culturally trash it after paying client think tanks a fortune…put money in friends and favorites pocket…corrupt in body and soul…

Llyn
Llyn
4 months ago
Reply to  Gary H

The money for 20mph was spent on this financial yr not the next financial year which is under debate?

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
4 months ago

Guardian claims UK gov to buy Wylfa for 200 million off Hitachi…Cymru gets sweet FA but Gething and EGINO/NIA get backhander…

Last edited 4 months ago by Mab Meirion
hdavies15
hdavies15
4 months ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Why pay so much for it anyway ? Hitachi baulked at the original project so have a devalued asset on their hands. If it’s so important to buy it pay only the discounted value and tell them to Pi** off. No chance. Hitachi is a big multinational, part of the web that’s working hard to tip the balance even further enriching the rich and impoverishing the poor. In Rishi’s book they are “good guys”.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
4 months ago
Reply to  hdavies15

In Rishi’s book very few people have a right to life at all…

Be wary of Relgionist Warriors, spot them on the Tory benches…

David
David
4 months ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

They are also on the Labour benches.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
4 months ago
Reply to  David

They are everywhere but there are only so many belligerent religions, I’d meld a Quaker and a Jain together…QJ. you heard it here… I find it almost impossible to focus on individuals on the Labour benches, first Lammy vanished and now Red Sonia has been sent to Coventry, the rest are faceless as well as sharing in the inhumanity… Liz does her best to hold their feet to the fire but Fat Shanks and Mogg really pooped all over that place…it will never get rid of the smell… I’ve had my eye on that phone box ever since Clark Kent… Read more »

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